David Israelite: My Lessons from the MMA

As we celebrate yesterday’s 415-0 vote in the House of Representatives, and turn our full attention to the Senate, we should take a moment to understand the lessons of what led to our success so far.

Success has many fathers, and you are likely to read or hear the proposition that the reason the MMA was successful is because the music industry came together and fought for a unified agenda. While music industry consensus is a laudable goal and a NECESSARY condition for legislative success, it is NOT WHY we were successful.

Here are the Five Lessons we should take from yesterday’s historic success.


The concept of a comprehensive music bill is not a novel or new idea. There have been calls for, and attempts at, an omnibus music bills for years. Those previous efforts all failed because they involved the wrong strategy. They were doomed to fail.

The MMA began with a strategic shift that was premised on the belief that legislation could not be passed over the objection of any of the four main groups:

  1. Songwriters, Publishers and PROs;
  2. Record Label &anp; Artist Groups;
  3. Digital Media Companies; and
  4. Broadcasters.

The MMA’s fundamental premise was based on the need to achieve buy-in from all four of these main communities. While each group has incredibly complicated politics within, we were committed from the start to build support within each of the four groups. Previous efforts suffered from the flawed strategy that believed any of the four groups could be beaten in a legislative fight. That was never going to happen in this political environment.

There is a proverb that people who would normally dislike and avoid one another will work together if they think it is politically useful to do so. That was our guiding principle.


With this strategy in mind, we then had to construct a bill that could get consensus but also include enough benefits for each group so that each would value and fight for the bill. The key to the entire effort was solving the licensing problem for digital companies in exchange for benefits to the music community. This is the essence of the grand compromise. It took a long time and involved an extremely delicate balance of interests, but we were able to make a deal as expressed in 155 pages of legislative text. Most of the 415 Members who voted for the MMA couldn’t tell you what it does. They voted for the bill because they understood the private sector got together and solved a problem.


Many Members of Congress are considered friends of the music industry and many would have been willing to be the lead sponsors of our effort. We got the right one. It is practically unheard of to find a Member who will be such a champion for a cause that is not a “constituent” concern. I would rather have one Member with the dedication and commitment of Doug Collins than 20 Members who give surface-level support.


Once we had the right strategy, the right substance, and the right Congressional leaders, we then had to execute a game plan. It is hard to move any legislation in this environment, let alone legislation in such a complicated and contentious area of the law. Office by office. Staffer by staffer. The basics of lobbying. All of the lobbyists who pitched in to the group effort are to be complimented.


This phrase is often credited to an 1858 speech by Abraham Lincoln but actually was derived from a verse in the Bible (Mark 3:25). If a group's members are in perpetual disagreement, the group will eventually cease to exist.

While I wrote that music industry consensus is a laudable goal and a necessary condition for legislative success, the truth is that the MMA does not really involve many compromises between the interests of the two different music copyrights. The original MMA is largely an agreement between the composition copyright interests and digital media companies, and the Classics Act is largely an agreement between the sound recording copyright interests and digital radio companies. Of course there are many issues that cross-pollinate and required agreement between the two copyright interests, but this is mostly two separate bills being joined together (along with the AMP Act for which the Grammys deserves great credit).

But we would never have been able to create the original MMA, which has become the engine that will pull the other bills across the finish line, if we did not develop consensus between music publishers and songwriters. That was key.

We would not be here but for the integrity, hard work and partnership of the Nashville Songwriters Association (NSAI) and the Songwriters of North America (SONA).

There are a handful of isolated voices that did their best to poison the working relationship between publishers and writers. They may not have been bad intentioned, but they lacked the vision of how to build the compromises necessary for success and they wanted to fight the battles of yesterday instead of fighting for a better tomorrow.

Both publishers and songwriters should learn from this experience that we can do great things when working together.

We have more work to do. Our House success does not guarantee success in the Senate. But I am confident we will see this through and see comprehensive music legislation signed into law. There are many, many people who deserve credit. But we should remember that our success is based on the right strategy, the right substance, working with the right Members, paying attention to the details of the nuts and bolts of lobbying, and publishers and songwriters working together for our common good.


David Israelite
President & CEO
National Music Publishers' Association